The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday approved an amendment to the Staple Food Law that would end decades of government control of rice output by fiscal 2008 and put farm groups in charge of production, officials said.

A compulsory rice acreage reduction program in place since fiscal 1971 would be scrapped and a new output program would be introduced under which government involvement would be limited to advising farming groups and checking yield plans.

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (Zenchu) and other farming groups would draw up production plans and present them to the government.

The LDP gave its approval after rice policy officials from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Food Agency briefed its members on the gist of the amendment.

The government had planned to allow farmers the freedom to plan and adjust output in a bid to introduce market mechanisms into rice production and nurture competitive rice farms.

But farm groups asked the government to remain involved, arguing that without its backing, some farmers would ignore quotas. Rice growers also opposed the original plan on the grounds they would be unable to draft production plans on their own.

The government intends to present the amendment to the Diet during its current session, hoping to have it take effect in April 2004, the officials said. It is customary for government officials to brief ruling party members on drafts prior to their Diet submission.

The compulsory rice acreage reduction program was originally designed to lessen oversupply and prevent a plunge in rice prices.

Under it, the farm ministry provides subsidies to farmers in exchange for cutting back on rice acreage and cultivating other crops.

But the system has effectively collapsed due to a sharp fall in rice consumption and the resulting continued decline in rice prices.

According to the Food Agency, Japan consumed 118.3 kg of rice per person in fiscal 1962. The amount fell by nearly 50 percent to 64.6 kg in fiscal 2000.

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